Forbidden Words

Throwing down the pencil in disgust and tossing aside the papers in frustration, my child unleashes a stream of forbidden words: “I hate this; I can’t understand this; this is impossible; I’ll never understand.” Moaned in one continuous exhale, my child repeats what has become a familiar script.  She’s only 13, yet she is convinced that some of the academics she studies are beyond her reach.  When faced with new or challenging material, her default is to pour out this verbal protest, usually ending with “This is stupid!”

I hope to break the cycle of verbal complaint with a mindset shift.  Ultimately, I want to encourage her to speak more kindly to herself.  I begin by pointing out how she might be more gentle and encouraging with what she says aloud.

I am training my daughter to think of three items to tell herself in each of these categories:

*Being overwhelmed is reasonable

*Support is available

*Reflect on past success

Now, instead of labeling the task as too hard, we try these reminders of how reasonable it is to feel overwhelmed:

“This is unfamiliar and may take me some time to understand.”

“I need to synthesize many aspects of what I’ve learned in order to solve these problems, and that takes a lot of effort.”

“There are many steps to this problem and that makes it more complicated.”

Making sure my daughter doesn’t feel alone, we talk through reminders of available support:

“My parent is here to help me.”

“We have the solutions manual for the Physics book.”

“There are many online resources available. I can hear this topic explained differently by many other teachers.”

Ultimately, I want her to remember that what she’s done this far has laid a foundation for future success.  We talk through reminders of what else has gone well.

“I’ve done other hard things and succeeded.”

“I’ve already learned material related to this section, and even though it took some time, after a few weeks I was ready.”

“I have skills that can help me learn this effectively.”

By reminding my daughter to avoid the forbidden words of “hate,” “can’t” and “impossible,” I hope I am changing her ability to bounce back and be resilient.

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